SAG Extends Contract to Quarterlife Actors

In a move that could herald a new age in online content production, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) announced that the actors in the new online series Quarterlife, are covered by the Union’s contract. This means that performers in the highly-anticipated series will be eligible for SAG pay rates and health insurance benefits under the union’s guidelines, though specific terms of the Quarterlife contract were not released.

Quarterlife was signed January 19 to the SAG Internet Online Agreement, and thirteen guild members are working or have worked on the show. While most Web productions are non-SAG, SAG has covered more than 200 such productions in the past two years.

In its press release SAG said:

“This is another sign that the Internet is maturing into a productive distribution channel for professionally produced content,” said Doug Allen, the Guild’s national executive director.

It’s fantastic that SAG is recognizing online video as not just a legitimate, but an increasingly important distributor of filmed entertainment. But as with anything, there’s good news and bad news with this announcement.

For viewers, having SAG actors in Web productions will mean better performances. Which is good news because let’s face it — the acting on many Web productions could use some improvement. So bring on the (real) talent! For the actors in online series, it will provide some much needed pay and insurance benefits.

But if SAG’s influence spreads online, and major media outlets demand that producers work within SAG agreements, there could be a disruption to the run-and-gun ethic that makes Web entertainment so raw.

While researching a similar story, I spoke with some online series producers. One in particular liked working outside of SAG because it allowed a certain degree of freedom. They could shoot as many hours as they liked without lunch breaks, they could do stunts without a coordinator or fire marshal present, and in general they could avoid an additional layer of red tape.

If you’re just out there with your friends shooting a quick video, it won’t matter, but if you want to distribute it through a major online media outlet who is a SAG signatory, will you have to do your series under a SAG agreement? And how will residuals be counted?

There are no details offered in theInternet and New Technologies section of SAG’s “Contract Corner.” It basically says to call them to hammer out what kind of online production you’re making and they’ll figure it out from there.

I contacted SAG prior to this announcement on Friday to ask them about their role in existing and future online productions. I’ll post more after talking with them and others.

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